Neosho’s Bright Futures Weekend Backpack program received a major boost Wednesday, with a $25,000 contribution from Tyson Foods.

After making the presentation, Pat Bourke, Tyson’s corporate social responsibility program manager corporate affairs, then jumped onto the assembly line at the Freeman Family YMCA to help the Bright Futures volunteers fill the bags with food items that will be sent home with several hundred Neosho R-5 school children this weekend.

Barb Lake, coordinator, Bright Futures, announced that one in five children in this area face food insecurity at home.

“In three of our five elementary schools of our own, 76 to 81 percent of the students meet government poverty guidelines to receive a free lunch or reduced lunch at school,” Lake said.

She said the need is so great, and added that Bright Futures was created to help overcome obstacles to kids learning when they are at school. Lake continued, “The Weekend Backpack program is a lifeline to 330 students every week, who receive a bag of food for the weekend so that they can come to school Monday morning ready to learn and focus on school.”

Lake explained that before the Weekend Backpack program began five years ago, some students after arriving for school on Mondays would ask for a second breakfast.

 “We had a student that went through the trash looking for leftovers because they were so hungry,” Lake said. “We know that kids facing food insecurity, a lot of them, the only nutritious meals they receive are while they are at school for breakfast and lunch. So we wanted to ensure that these kids could go from Friday, enjoy their weekend, and be ready to learn on Monday morning when they came back to school.

 Lake related that some students ask in mid-week if they are going to get their bag that week, so she feels it is very important to them.

She said each child receives 10 to 12 items of food each week, supplemental snacks to help sustain them through the weekend.

“The students enrolled are identified by teachers and counselors – students that may be facing food insecurity,” she said. “They usually can see some triggers that would qualify them as someone who would benefit from the program.”

Without the donation of any food items, Lake calculated that it would cost between $50,000 to $60,000 to fund the program, so the donation from Tyson Foods would fund a half-year of the program. She noted that a very successful peanut butter drive earlier this summer netted all the peanut butter needed for this school year, more than 3,000 jars valued at over $6,000.

“We all agree, no one should ever go hungry, and I think that’s especially true for a child,” said Bourke in explaining the donation from Tyson.

Bourke said the Neosho Backpack Program and similar programs in Southwest Missouri help to ensure that area school children at-risk for hunger do not go hungry over the weekends.

We’re very proud to support, endorse and help these programs and volunteers. It’s a great feeling, absolutely, yes!” he exclaimed. “So on behalf of Tyson Foods and our 115,000 team members, we’re just here to say thank you for what you do, and hopefully we can end this one of these days.”

Bourke called it sickening that some children go hungry when at home.

“I’m like the rest of you folks that go home and eat three square meals a day or 21 square meals a week, and the idea that again – especially children – that don’t have that food security, I really don’t know how to describe it, I can’t imagine it,” he said. “We do everything we can to alleviate it, to mitigate it, but I probably feel the same way you do, it’s awful!”

Bourke said Tyson Foods has a grant program, and the request submitted by Lake made a lot of sense.

“It’s absolutely in our focused, targeted area of charitable giving,” he said. “Absolutely, it was an easy request.”

Bourke said he was very happy to join the assembly line to pack the bags for this weekend, and joked that he got a little ahead of himself.

“I was in line to put in granola bars, and you’re supposed to put two in but I felt compelled to put three in some of them,” he said. “Come to find out we may run out of granola bars, so I need to run to Walmart and get some more granola bars on my own nickel.”

In addition to the granola bars, each backpack this week contains a juice box, macaroni and cheese, pudding, ramen noodles, canned fruit, Cheerios, oatmeal, pretzels, oranges and peanut butter.

Lake praised the many supporters who make the Weekend Backpack, and all Bright Futures programs possible. A group of about 10 volunteers who assemble the bags each week attended the presentation and then went to work on filling the bags for this weekend. Lake also thanked the many donors who fund the program and who provide food items, and the YMCA, which houses and manages the Weekend Backpack program under the guidance of Jessica Ferguson.

“This program really is a community effort,” she said. “It’s funded by individuals, churches, corporations that make this happen for the kids, and then you’ve seen all of the volunteers – not only the volunteers at the ‘Y’ that pack each week – but we’ve got volunteers at each school.

“We’ve had so much positive response from this program, of what it does for our kids.”